Geography 2020A/B Lecture Notes - Teotihuacan, Sweet Potato, Mayan Languages

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Published on 31 Jan 2013
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Jan, 10, 2013
Indigenous People of the Americas
-500 Nations
-When we deal with some of the cultures of Mesoamerica we have to watch not to just speak about them in past
terms because for example there are 23 still surviving Mayan languages used by the native peoples
-There is an uneven dispersal of indigenous populations that survived conquest and the highest density areas are
around the Andes like Peru and Bolivia
-The Beringia ice free corridor was open intermittently and allowed for people inhabiting Asia to migrate over but
there is still much debate as to when the people of the Americas began but the dominant thesis is that is occurred
around 25-12, 000 years ago (keeps being pushed back with new evidence to as early as 40, 000 years ago)
-There are also hypothesis pointing that the people island hopped over large bodies of water or crossed with boats
-As the glaciers retreated the sea levels rose and the New World was cut off for the next 12, 000 years
-The peopling of the Caribbean happened one of two ways and there are still debates but the east was peoples
through Venezuela near Trinidad etc as they moved towards Cuba and some believe it was peopled through this
island hopping but it is possible people from the Yucatan moved to Cuba and moved down but it is clear there
were two distinct culture groups present there (one in the small islands called the Carib people and in the greater
islands there were the Taino or Arawak)
-They lived along the coast doing small scale agriculture and fishing but some islands may have had 1 million
people living in small groups
-The first nations were very diverse and they were technologically sophisticated with astronomical and engineering
advances (irrigation, roads, hydrological advances), and many were literate and with mathematics
-Others were technologically primitive and some of these still exist today with little or no contact which were
largely hunter gatherers
-There is sedentary agriculture and with the Incas we see massive irrigation works as well as the use of terracing
and the rise of agriculture was occurring in various places by 5000 years ago and there was some domestication of
small animals
-There were very large and densely populated empires due to significant available surpluses and these were highly
stratified with feudal-type hierarchies and many grew through conquest and exploration (conflicts were later
exploited by the Spanish to gain allies)
-On the other end of the spectrum there were societies that lived in egalitarian ways such as the Caribbean where
there were virtually no social classes (still had specialists)
-Across the board they didn’t have iron or ploughs (surpluses were gained through labour intensive agriculture),
draft animals (had domesticated llamas and alpacas but they couldn’t pull products and materials), gunpowder,
trans-oceanic navigation, immunity to Old World diseases (causes of many of the deaths that occurred), and all of
these were significant differences at contact with the Europeans
Pre-Colombian Populations (1492):
-The total of Latin America and the Caribbean had 50-54 million peoples and this was a large population of total
humanity and the most densely settled parts of the area were Mesoamerica with 17 million people and the Andes
with 16 million (these today have the most indigenous survival)
-There were many dominant empires in the area such as the Inca, Maya, Toltec, etc (Mayan realm was never
unified like the Incan empire and they were just city states that interacted)
-The Inca empire is sometimes estimated at closer to 20 million people but usual estimates are between 9-14 and
the area of modern Mexico may have had 25 million people
Agriculture:
-With regards to agriculture they had major Vavilov centres of global plant genetic diversities and Central America
gave rise to maize, tomato, beans, sweet potato, squash, tobacco etc
-Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia is another great hearth with potato, beans, tomato, squash, etc
-Southern Chile is another as well as Brazil and Paraguay
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Document Summary

When we deal with some of the cultures of mesoamerica we have to watch not to just speak about them in past terms because for example there are 23 still surviving mayan languages used by the native peoples. There is an uneven dispersal of indigenous populations that survived conquest and the highest density areas are around the andes like peru and bolivia. There are also hypothesis pointing that the people island hopped over large bodies of water or crossed with boats. As the glaciers retreated the sea levels rose and the new world was cut off for the next 12, 000 years. They lived along the coast doing small scale agriculture and fishing but some islands may have had 1 million people living in small groups. The first nations were very diverse and they were technologically sophisticated with astronomical and engineering advances (irrigation, roads, hydrological advances), and many were literate and with mathematics.

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